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University of California. 



Gen. John Sullivan 




Secretary-General, A?nerican-lrish Historical Society. 

THE battle of Rhode Island took place August 29, 
1778. The Americans were commanded by Gen. 
John Sullivan, and the conflict resulted disastrously to 
the British arms. The Americans withstood and repelled 
successive attacks by the foe, and when the battle closed 
and the sun went down the British had lost nearly one 
fifth of the entire force they had taken into action. 

Lafayette pronounced the engagement " the best 
fought action of the war. 11 Congress passed a vote of 
thanks to General Sullivan and complimented him on 
having repulsed the enemy and maintained the field. 
He was also specially thanked by the states of Rhode 


W- .A 



Island and New Hampshire, while the praise extended by 
Washington, himself, was also prompt and sincere. 

Gen. John Sullivan was of Irish parentage and was 
born at Berwick, Me., in 1740. His ancestors were of 
the historic Clan CSullivan of the Irish Kingdom of Mun- 
ster. The CTSullivans in antiquity and prominence rank 
with the oldest and most distinguished families in Europe. 
Irish history for nearly a thousand years records their 
greatness. They have also been distinguished in France 
and Spain, while in the United States, John, father of 
the general, has been the founder of one of the most dis- 
tinguished families. 

As early as A. D. 909, a chief of the Clan was slain 
in battle with the Danes. Again, A. D. 943, in a great 
engagement with a Danish host in Ireland the Irish 
forces were commanded by another lord of the Clan. 
During the conflict, he slew in personal combat a son of 
the King of Denmark. The O'Sullivans have been hered- 
itary chieftains of Beare and Bantry. They possessed the 
castles of Ardea, Dunkerron, and Dunboy, had various 
other strongholds, and for centuries could muster thou- 
sands of retainers and men-at-arms. The head of one 
branch of the family was styled CTSullivan Mor ; and that 
of another, O'Sullivan Beare. At the period of the Eng- 
lish invasion of Ireland the Clan was among the most 
powerful in the country, and for a long period bravely 
kept aloft the Irish banner and unflinchingly opposed 
the forces of England. 

In Spain, the O'Sullivans were Knights of St. Iago and 
Counts of Berehaven. Other representatives of the Clan 

there were of the Regiment of Limerick, the Regiment of 
Waterford, and the Regiment of Ultonia, all in the Span- 
ish service. In France, Sir John O'Sullivan, a native of 
Kerry, became a colonel. In 1745, he was appointed 
Adjutant-General to the Pretender, and accompanied the 
latter in his invasion of Britain, landing at Lochnanuagh, 
August 5, 1745. With Cameron of Lochiel, O'Sullivan 
commanded the 900 Highlanders who captured Edin- 
burgh, September 16, 1745. In his position as adjutant 
and quartermaster-general of the army, O'Sullivan formed 
the latter in line of battle at Culloden. The O'Sullivans 
have been allied by marriage with the MacCarthys, the 
MacDonoughs, the MacSweeneys, the O'Keefes, the 
Fitzgeralds, and other historic Irish families. 

This, then, was the sturdy, gallant stock from which 
sprang Gen. John Sullivan, the hero of the battle of 
Rhode Island. The chastisement he administered on 
this occasion to the old-time enemy of his house and 
race, was worthy of the indomitable spirit of his heroic 

General Sullivan's grandfather, Major Philip O'Sulli- 
van of Kerry, was an officer in the garrison that defended 
Limerick. General Sullivan's father was probably edu- 
cated on the continent of Europe, as education of Irish 
Catholics was, at that period, banned by English law in 
Ireland. The father of the General was an excellent 
mathematician and a splendid Greek and Latin scholar. 

He wedded Margery Browne, a native of Cork. A little 
girl at the time, she was among his fellow-passengers on 
the voyage from Ireland in 1723. They were married at 

Berwick, Me., several years afterward. The husband 
became a schoolmaster and taught in Berwick and vicin- 
ity until he was nearly ninety years of age. Like "Old 
Master" Kelly at Tower Hill, R. I., he imparted tuition 
to large numbers of American youth. His wife was a 
woman of sterling worth and, like that other Irishwoman, 
Sarah Alexander Perry, of Rhode Island (mother of Com- 
modore Perry, the hero of Lake Erie), early inculcated 
patriotism in her sons. There were five of these, to wit : 
Benjamin, John (the General), James, -Daniel, and Eben 

Benjamin was lost at sea some years before the Revo- 
lution. Daniel was a manufacturer and ship owner. 
He raised and commanded a company of Minute Men. 
The British considered him one of the most dangerous 
patriots in Maine. He was at length captured and con- 
fined in the Jersey prison ship. Later, he was exchanged 
but died on the way home as the result of the brutal 
treatment he had received. James became governor of 
Massachusetts, and served two terms in that position. 
Eben participated in military operations during the Rev- 
olution. John became a major-general and forms the 
subject of this sketch : 

He received his early education from his father, the 
schoolmaster, studied law, and practised at Durham, 
N. H. In 1772 he was commissioned major in the mil- 
itia, and was a delegate to the First Continental Con- 
gress. Upon the approach of hostilities, he, with John 
Langdon, conducted an expedition against Fort William 
and Mary, hauled down the British flag and captured 

ninety-six barrels of powder. Much of this was subse- 
quently used by the patriots at the battle of Bunker 
Hill. Sullivan was commissioned a brigadier-general by 
Congress, participated in the siege of Boston, and by his 
own exertions raised 2,000 New Hampshire men who 
also took part in the siege. A great many of these men 
were of Irish blood. The British evacuated Boston on 
St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 1776. 

Immediately after this event, General Sullivan was 
ordered to Rhode Island with his brigade to repel a 
threatened attack by the enemy. This was the General's 
first military visit to the state. Of his second tour of 
duty there, more later. Sullivan and Greene, the latter a 
native of Warwick, R. I., were commissioned Major- 
Generals on the same day. The two became close friends 
and were associated on many an important occasion. At 
the crossing of the Delaware, Sullivan led the American 
right that captured the Hessians at Trenton. He made 
a night descent on Staten Island for which he received 
the thanks of Congress. He was with Washington at 
West Chester and Princeton. He commanded the Ameri- 
can right wing at Brandy wine and at German town, de- 
feating the British left. These were but a few of many 
important events in which he prominently figured. 


The British, under General Clinton, had taken posses- 
sion of Newport, R. I., in December, 1776. For some 
time it had been the design of Washington to drive them 
from thence and from the island of Rhode Island. Two 

expeditions were planned to accomplish this. The 
original one was to have been put into execution in 1777 
when Major-General Spencer had command in the state. 
He failed, however, to carry it out. As a result he was 
tried, and, though acquitted, his recall from the state was 
decided upon. 

On the recommendation of Washington and Greene, 
General Sullivan was appointed by Congress to succeed 
Spencer. Under date of Providence, March 30, 1778, 
Gov. Nicholas Cooke, of Rhode Island, thus wrote to 
Sullivan : 

44 Sir: — I am favored with yours of the 26th inform- 
ing me of your appointment to the command of the 
troops in this state. I have the pleasure of informing 
you that the appointment is highly satisfactory to us, 
and we hope will prove equally beneficial to the public 
and glorious to you." 

In May, 1778, the General Assembly of Rhode Island 
" Resolved, That it be recommended to the Hon. Major- 
General Sullivan, to take up all persons who are sus- 
pected or known to be unfriendly to the state, or to the 
United States in general, that he shall think proper, and 
proceed against them according to the known practice in 
such cases in the army under the immediate command of 
His Excellency General Washington." 

On May 3, 1778, Sullivan transmitted a report to 
Congress relative to the Rhode Island department in 
which he says : 

" I do myself the honor to Inclose Congress a return 

of the troops at this post. The three last-mentioned 
regiments leave on this day so that my force will con- 
sist of the residue mentioned in the return. We have 
not a man from Connecticut, and but part of two com- 
panies from Massachusetts Bay. Some few have arrived 
from New Hampshire and about half their quota are on 
the march. With these troops, I have to guard a shore 
of upwards of sixty miles in extent, from Point Judith to 
Providence on the west, and from Providence to Sakonnet 
Point on the east, against an enemy who can bring all 
their strength to any point they choose. I am exceeding 
happy that they know nothing of our strength, and are 
fortifying against an attack which they daily expect. 

" They have on the island and in the posts adja- 
cent, four regiments of Hessians, and the Twenty-sec- 
ond, Forty-third, and Fifty-sixth British ; making on the 
whole, 3,600, exclusive of a small regiment, consisting 
of 127, composed of refugees and deserters, and com- 
manded by one Whiteman. I inclose Congress a plan 
of their fortifications round the town. They have 
besides, a very strong work on Butt's Hill, a small 
redoubt opposite Bristol Ferry, another at the entrance 
of our common ferry point, and two small works opposite 
Frogland Point. . . . There are seven vessels of 
war [British], and two galleys, stationed in the following 
manner, viz. : The ■ Kingfisher 1 and two galleys, in the 
East Passage at Little Compton ; in the main channel, 
the ■ Flora 1 and « Juno ^ ; in the west channel, the « Som- 
erset 1 : at the town, the • Nonesuch, 1 the ■ Falcon, 7 
and a frigate, the name of which I have not learned. 


" This disposition of their shipping was made to 
entrap Captain Whipple, in the ■ Providence ' frigate ; 
but on the night of the 30th, he took advantage of a 
violent northeast storm, passed them under a heavy fire, 
which he warmly returned, and got safe to sea. As the 
number of troops destined for this department will be so 
incompetent to defend it against a sudden attack, I think 
that the two State galleys, if properly fitted, would be of 
great advantage. ... I also beg Congress to order 
Gen. Stark, who has returned to New Hampshire from 
Albany, to me at this place as I shall need two brigadiers 
when the troops arrive ; and the more so, as the extent of 
country to guard will be so great. " 

On June 19, ensuing, Congress instructed Washington, 
at the request of General Sullivan and Governor Greene, 
to return the Rhode Island troops to their own state, for 
the latter's defence. The Navy board was directed to pre- 
pare three galleys for the defence of the Providence, War- 
ren, and Taunton rivers. Preparations for the expedi- 
tion against the British at Newport went actively for- 
ward under the orders of General Sullivan. In the mean- 
time, a British force of 500 or 600 was sent, on May 
25, 1778, up the Bay to interrupt the preparations. The 
British landed about dawn and did great damage in War- 
ren and Bristol. They plundered private dwellings and 
carried off such articles of value as could easily be trans- 
ported. In Bristol, they burned the Episcopal church 
and eighteen of the best houses. 

In some cases rings were torn from women's fingers 
and buckles from their shoes. Aprons, handkerchiefs, 

and necklaces were taken as well as household furniture 
and other articles. Several prisoners were captured, 
brutally treated, and carried off. A quantity of live- 
stock was also collected, but the marauders were pre- 
vented from securing this by a party of volunteers, under 
Colonel Barton, sent down from Providence by General 
Sullivan. These fell upon the enemy's rear and com- 
pelled him to abandon at least so much of the booty. 
Next day the British soldiers offered their plunder for 
sale in the streets of Newport. The barbarities inflicted 
on the people of Warren and Bristol called from General 
Sullivan a sharp, condemnatory letter to the British 
commander, General Pigot. In this letter Sullivan 
declared the enemy's expedition to have been «« darkened 
with savage cruelty and stained with indelible disgrace." 

The news that a French fleet had arrived off New York, 
caused the British at Newport to make preparations for 
withstanding a combined attack, — from Sullivan's forces 
by land, and from the French by sea. The King's stores 
were removed from the Newport wharves to a place of 
safety. New redoubts were thrown up, and the forts on 
Brenton's Point, Goat Island, and Rose Island speedily 
rebuilt. In the meantime, Sullivan had been collecting 
men and material on the mainland ready to cross over, 
from Tiverton, to the island of Rhode Island on which 
Newport stands. For days. Providence, Warren, and 
Bristol resounded with the tramp of marching men and 
the rumble of artillery— patriots hastening to the front. 

The island of Rhode Island, upon which the battle was 
fought, is within the state of Rhode Island but is sepa- 


fated from the mainland by Narragansett and Mount Hope 
bays and the Sakonnet river. The island is about fif- 
teen miles in length and of very irregular width, being 
only three or four miles across at the widest part. New- 
port is situated at the S. S. W. end of the island, which 
fronts on the Atlantic ocean. Irish settlers are found 
in Newport and vicinity fully one hundred years before 
the Revolution. Among the old-time Irish names there 
long before the Declaration of Independence are Casey, 
Larkin, Kelly, Murphy, and the like. That distinguished 
Irishman, George Berkeley, "the Kilkenny scholar," 
arrived at Newport in 1729, took up his residence in its 
neighborhood, and was quickly conceded the intellectual 
leadership of the colony. 

On July 29, 1778, the magnificent French fleet under 
D'Estaing arrived off Brenton's ledge, below Newport. 
It comprised twelve ships of the line, four frigates, and a 
corvette. The ships of the line comprised the Langue- 
doc, Marseillais, Provence, Tonnant, Saggittaire, Gner- 
riere, Fa?itasque, Char, Protect eur ', Vaillant, ZHe, and 
Hector] the frigates were the Chimere, P Engageante ; 
Aimable, and Alcb?ine ; the corvette was the Stanley. The 
fleet had aboard about 4,000 French troops of the line. 
The next day, General Sullivan went aboard the flagship 
Languedoc and had a conference with the French admiral. 
It was agreed that two ships of the line, two frigates, and 
the corvette should take position so as to cut off the re- 
treat of the enemy's vessels lying in the bay. 

As soon as this plan became apparent to the British, 
the latter ran four of their frigates — the Lark, Orpheus, 


Juno, and Cerberus — ashore and burned them. Later, 
they destroyed other ships and a number of smaller ves- 
sels by burning or sinking the same to prevent them 
being taken by the P'rench. Altogether, the British lost 
vessels carrying 212 guns, the guns also being lost. On 
the appearance of the French, the British troops on 
Conanicut, and in other localities, were withdrawn. The 
agreement between Sullivan and D'Estaing, who expected 
their landing on the island of Rhode Island would be con- 
tested, was that the Americans should cross over from 
the mainland first and the French from their ships next. 
It was later decided, however, that both movements 
should be made simultaneously. Sullivan's forces on Au- 
gust 4, 1778, comprised the following 

Varnum's brigade 

Glover's brigade 

Cornell's brigade 

Greene's brigade 

Lovell's brigade . 

Titcomb's brigade 

Livingston's advance 

West's reserve . 

Artillery . 

Total . 

The British force at this time incl 
second, Thirty-eighth, Forty-third, and Fifty-fourth reg- 
iments, the Anspach regiments of Vort and Seaboth, the 
Royal Artillery, the Hessian Chasseurs, the King's Amer- 
ican Regiment (loyalists), and some other corps. The 




I.I3 1 















uded the Twenty 


larger part of these troops were veterans. A large portion 
of Sullivan's force was composed of volunteers who had 
never been in action. On August 9, 1788, D'Estaing 
began landing French troops on Conanicut island, while 
Sullivan, with his army, began crossing over from Tiv- 
erton to the north end of the island of Rhode Island. 
He there took possession of the redoubts deserted by the 
British, threw up new ones, posted artillery and grad- 
ually extended his lines in the direction of Newport. 
While the French were landing on Conanicut, a British 
fleet under Lord Howe was seen approaching outside. 
D'Estaing immediately reembarked his troops, regardless 
of the arrangements with Sullivan for the attack on New- 
port, and went out to give battle to the incoming fleet. 

This sudden change of tactics on the French com- 
mander's part greatly mortified both Sullivan and 
Lafayette. On the night of August 12 a great storm 
arose which scattered both fleets. In the meantime, 
however, the French had engaged some of the British 
ships, inflicting and receiving damage. D'Estaing later 
returned to Newport, but, owing to the injury sustained 
by his fleet in the storm, decided on taking his ships to 
Boston for repairs. Sullivan and Lafayette tried to induce 
him to remain and carry out the design against Newport, 
but were unsuccessful. The ensuing events are thus told 
by Sullivan in a letter to the President of Congress. The 
letter is dated Tiverton, August 31, 1778 : 

•« Esteemed Sir : Upon the Count D'Estaing finding 
himself under the necessity of going to Boston to repair 
the loss he sustained in the late gale of wind, I thought 

J 3 

it best to carry on my approaches with as much vigor as 
possible against Newport, that no time might be lost in 
making the attack upon the return of his fleet, or any 
part of it to cooperate with us. I had sent express to the 
Count to hasten his return, which I had no doubt would 
at least bring back a part of his fleet to us in a few 

"Our batteries played upon the enemy's works for sev- 
eral days with apparent good success, as the enemy's fire 
from their outworks visibly grew weaker, and they began 
to abandon some of those next us ; and on the 27th we 
found they had removed their cannon from all the out- 
works except one. 

•« The town of Newport is defended by two lines sup- 
ported by several redoubts connected with the lines. 
The first of these lines extends from a large pond, called 
Easton's pond, near to Tommony Hill, and then turns off" 
to the water on the north of Windmill Hill ; this line was 
defended by five redoubts in front. 

" The second line is more than a quarter of a mile with- 
in this, and extends from the sea to the north side of the 
island terminating at the North Battery ; on the south at 
the entrance by Easton's beach, where this line termi- 
nates, is a redoubt which commands the pass, and has 
another redoubt about twenty rods on the north ; there 
are a number of small works interspersed between the 
lines, which render an attack extremely hazardous on the 
land side, without a naval force to cooperate with it. I, 
however, should have attempted carrying the works by 
storm, as soon as I found they had withdrawn their can- 

14 ' 

rions from their outworks, had I not found to my great 
surprise that the volunteers which composed a great part 
of the army had returned and reduced my numbers to 
little more than that of the enemy ; between two and 
three thousand had returned in the course of twenty-four 
hours, and others were still going off upon a supposition 
that nothing could be done before the return of the 
French fleet. Under these circumstances and the appre- 
hension of the arrival of an English fleet with a reinforce- 
ment to relieve the garrison, I sent away all the heavy 
articles that could be spared from the army to the main ; 
also a large party was detached to get the works in repair 
on the north end of the island, to throw up some addi- 
tional ones, and put in good repair the batteries at Tiver- 
ton and Bristol, to secure a retreat in case of necessity. 

"On the 28th, a council was called in which it was 
unanimously determined to remove to the north end of 
the island, fortify our camp, secure our communication 
with the main, and hold our ground on the island till we 
could know whether the French fleet would soon return 
to our assistance. On the evening of the 28th we moved 
with our stores and baggage, which had not been pre- 
viously sent forward, and about two in the morning en- 
camped on Butt's Hill, with our right extending to the 
west road, and left to the east road ; the flanking and 
covering parties still further towards the water on the 
right and left. One regiment was posted in a redoubt 
advanced of the right of the first line. Col. Henry B. 
Livingston, with a light corps consisting of Colonel 
Jackson's detachments and a detachment from the army, 

J 5 

was stationed in the east road. Another light corps 
under command of Colonel Laurens, Colonel Fleury, and 
Major Talbot, was posted on the west road. These 
corps were posted near three miles in front; in the rear 
of those was the picquet of the army commanded by 
Colonel Wade. The enemy having received intelligence 
of our movements came out early in the morning with 
nearly their whole force in two columns, advanced in the 
two roads and attacked our light corps ; they made a 
brave resistance, and were supported for some time by 
the picquet. 

" I ordered a regiment to support Colonel Livingston, 
another to Colonel Laurens, and at the same time sent 
them orders to retire to the main army in the best order 
they could. They kept up a retreating fire upon the 
enemy, and retired in excellent order to the main army. 
The enemy advanced on our left very near, but were 
repulsed by General Glover ; they then retired to Quaker 
Hill. The Hessian column formed on a chain of hills 
running northward from Quaker Hill. Our army was 
drawn up, the first line in front of the works on Butt's 
Hill ; the second in rear of the hill, and the reserve near 
a creek and near half a mile in the rear of the first line. 
The distance between those hills is about one mile, the 
ground between the hills is meadow land interspersed 
with trees and small copse wood. The enemy began a 
cannonade upon us about nine in the morning, which 
was returned with double force ; skirmishing continued 
between the advanced parties till near 10 o'clock, when 
the enemy's two ships of war and some small armed 


Vessels having gained our right flank and begun a fire, 
the enemy bent their whole force that way, and endeav- 
ored to turn our right under cover of the ships' fire, and 
to take advanced redoubt on the right ; they were twice 
driven back in great confusion ; but a third trial was 
made with greater numbers and more resolution, which, 
had it not been for the timely aid sent forward, would 
have succeeded ; a sharp conflict of near an hour ensued, 
in which the cannon from both armies placed on the hills 
played briskly in support of their own party. 

"The enemy were at length routed, and fled in great 
confusion to the hill where they first formed, and where 
they had artillery and some works to cover them, leav- 
ing their dead and wounded in considerable numbers 
behind them. . . . Colonel Campbell [British] came 
out the next day to gain permission to view the field 
of action to search for his nephew who was killed by 
his side, whose body he could not get off, as they 
were closely pursued. The firing of artillery continued 
through the day, and the musketry, with intermission, 
six hours ; the heat of action continued near an hour, 
which must have ended in the ruin of the British army 
had not their redoubts on the hill covered them from fur- 
ther pursuit. We were about to attack them in their 
lines, but the men having had no rest the night before, 
and nothing to eat either that night or the day of the 
action, and having been in constant action through most 
of the day, it was not thought advisable, especially as 
their position was exceedingly strong, and their numbers 
fully equal, if not superior, to ours. 


" Not more than fifteen hundred of my troops had ever 
been in action before. ... I have the pleasure to 
inform Congress that no troops could possibly show more 
spirit than those of ours which were engaged ; Colonel 
Livingston, and all the officers of the light troops, be- 
haved with remarkable spirit ; Colonels Laurens, Fleury, 
and Major Talbot, with the officers of that corps, behaved 
with great gallantry. 

"The brigades of the first line, Varnum's, Glover's, 
Cornell's, and Greene's, behaved with great firmness. 
Major-General Greene who commanded in the attack on 
the right, did himself the highest honor by the judgment 
and bravery exhibited in the action. One brigade only 
of the second line was brought to action, commanded by 
Brigadier-General Lovell ; he, and his brigade of militia, 
behaved with great resolution ; Colonel Crane and the 
officers of artillery deserve the highest praise. I enclose 
Congress a return of the killed, and wounded, and miss- 
ing on our side, and beg leave to assure them that from 
our own observation the enemy's loss must be much 
greater. Our army retired to camp after the action, the 
enemy employed themselves in fortifying their camp 
through the night ; in the morning of the 30th, I re- 
ceived a letter from his excellency, General Washington, 
giving me notice that Lord Howe had again sailed with 
the fleet, and receiving intelligence at the same time that 
a fleet was off" Block Island, and also a letter from Boston 
informing me that the Count D'Estaing could not come 
round so soon as I expected. A council was called, and 
as we could have no prospect of operating against New- 


port with success, without the assistance of a fleet, it was 
unanimously agreed to quit the island until the return of 
the French squadron ; to make a retreat in the face of an 
enemy, equal, if not superior in number, and cross a 
river without loss, I knew was an arduous task, and sel- 
dom accomplished if attempted ; as our sentries were 
within 200 yards of each other I knew it would require 
the greatest care and attention. To cover my design 
from the enemy, I ordered a number of tents to be 
brought forward and pitched in sight of the enemy, and 
almost the whole army to employ themselves in fortifying 
the camp. 

'* The heavy baggage and stores were falling back and 
crossing through the day ; at dark the tents were struck, 
the light baggage and troops passed down, and before 12 
o'clock the main army had crossed, with stores and bag- 
gage. The Marquis de Lafayette arrived about 11 in the 
evening from Boston, where he had been by request of 
the general officers, to solicit the speedy return of the 
fleet. He was sensibly mortified that he was out of ac- 
tion, and that he might not be out of the way in case of 
action, he had rode from hence to Boston in seven hours, 
and returned in six and a half, the distance near seventy 
miles. He returned time enough to bring off the pic- 
quets, and other parties which covered the retreat of the 
army, which he did in excellent order ; not a man was 
left behind, not the smallest article lost. . . .*■ 

The loss of the Americans in the battle was 211; 
(killed, wounded, and missing), and that of the British 
1023. On Sullivan's staff that day were two of his 


brothers : Captain Eben Sullivan, aide-de-camp, and 
James Sullivan, then a judge of the Massachusetts Su- 
perior Court. In one spot on the field of battle sixty 
British dead were found ; in another, thirty Hessians 
were buried in one grave. Many officers and men of 
Irish descent served in Sullivan's army that day. Wash- 
ington complimented Sullivan and his army upon the 
result of the battle. Congress 

"Resolved, That the retreat made by Major-General 
Sullivan, with the troops under his command from Rhode 
Island, was prudent, timely, and well conducted, and 
that Congress highly approve the same," and "That 
the thanks of Congress be given to Major-General Sulli- 
van, and to the officers and troops under his command, 
for their fortitude and bravery, displayed in the action of 
August 29th, in which they repulsed the British forces 
and maintained the field." 

General Sullivan's modest account of the victory won by 
him on this occasion, is well supplemented by the Hon. 
Samuel G. Arnold. The latter in an address at Ports- 
mouth, R. I., in 1878, on the centennial anniversary of 
the battle, gives the following account of the latter : 

"A series of heavy skirmishes opened the engagement, 
and a regiment was sent [by Sullivan] to reinforce each 
of the two advanced corps, with orders for them to retire 
upon the main body, which was done in perfect order. 
The accounts vary as to which commenced the fight, one 
attributing it to Major Talbot on the west road, but the 
most circumstantial point to a spot near the Gibbs farm, 
where a cross road connects the two main roads, and to a 


fiefd now included between the east road and a middle 
road which at this point runs north from the cross road 
and parallel with the main road. A broad field enclosed 
by stone walls at this corner concealed a portion of the 
American pickets. The Union meeting-house now stands 
at the southeast angle of this field. 

" Here the Twenty-second British regiment, Colonel 
Campbell, which had marched out by the east road, 
divided, and one half of it, turning to the left into the 
cross road, fell into the ambuscade. A terrible slaughter 
ensued. The Americans, springing from behind the 
walls, poured a storm of bullets upon the bewildered 
enemy, and reloaded and repeated the desolating fire be- 
fore the British could recover from the shock. Nearly 
one quarter of the ill-fated Twenty-second were stretched 
upon the field. Two Hessian regiments came up to their 
relief, but too late. The Americans, according to orders, 
had already retreated [to the main body] . 

"A general assault was [then] made upon the Ameri- 
can left wing. This was repulsed by Gen. Glover, who 
drove the enemy into their works on Quaker hill. Upon 
the highlands extending north from the hill the Hessian 
columns were formed. The American army was drawn 
up in three lines, the first in front of their works on Butts 
hill, the second in rear of the hill, and the reserves near a 
creek about half a mile in rear of the first line. Between 
the two hills the distance is about one mile, with low 
meadow and, at that time, woodland between. At nine 
o'clock a heavy canonnade commenced, and continued the 
whole day. 


•'About ten o'clock the British ships of war and some 
gunboats came up the bay and opened fire upon the Amer- 
ican right flank. Under cover of this fire a desperate at- 
tempt was made to turn the flank and storm a redoubt on 
the American right. The British right wing had already 
been repulsed by Gen. Glover. The enemy now concen- 
trated his whole force upon the new point of attack. The 
action became general, and for nearly seven hours raged 
with fury, but between ten o'clock and noon the fighting 
was most desperate. Down the slope of Anthony's the 
Hessian columns and British infantry twice charged upon 
the forces led by Major-General Greene, which were com- 
posed of the four brigades of Varnum, Cornell, Glover, 
and Christopher Greene. The attacks were repulsed with 
great slaughter. 

1 « To turn the flank and capture the redoubt was to de- 
cide the battle. A third time, with added ranks and the 
fury of despair, the enemy rushed to the assault. The 
strength of the Americans was well nigh spent and this 
last charge was on the point of proving successful when 
two events occurred which turned the tide of battle. Two 
Continental battalions were thrown forward by General 
Sullivan to the support of his exhausted troops, and at the 
critical moment a desperate charge with the bayonet was 
made by Colonel Jackson's regiment, led by the gallant 
Lieutenant-Colonel Henry B. Livingston. This furious 
bayonet charge, says an eye witness, immediately threw 
the balance of victory into the American scale. And now 
it was that the newly raised black regiment, under Col. 
Christopher Greene, justified the hopes of its leaders and 


contributed in no small degree to decide the fortunes of 
the day. Headed by their major, Samuel Ward, and 
posted in a valley, they three times drove back the Hes- 
sians, who strove in vain to dislodge them, and so bloody 
was the struggle that on the day after the battle the Hes- 
sian colonel who had led the charge applied for a change 
of command, because he dared not lead his regiment 
again to action lest his men should shoot him for causing 
them so great a loss. 

"While the fight was raging at the right and centre of 
the line, the Massachusetts brigade, under General Lov- 
ell, attacked the British right and rear with complete suc- 
cess. Two heavy batteries brought forward to engage 
the ships of war obliged them to haul off. The desperate 
attempt to turn the American flank had failed, and the 
battle was already won by Sullivan. The British retreated 
to their camp, closely pursued by the victorious Ameri- 
cans, who captured one of their batteries on Quaker hill. 
Sullivan then desired to storm the works, but the ex- 
hausted condition of his troops, who had been for thirty- 
two hours without rest or food, and continually on the 
march, at labor or in battle, compelled him to abandon 
the attempt. The hand-to-hand fighting was over early 
in the afternoon, but the cannonade continued until 

In the army was a picked corps known as Sullivan's 
Life Guards. They behaved with great gallantry through- 
out the action and rendered valuable service. In recog- 
nition thereof Sullivan issued the following : 

2 3 

44 Headquarters, September 10, 1778. 

M General Orders for the Day — Tomorrow. 

44 At the gallant behavior of the General's Guards on 
Rhode Island, the General expresses his highest satisfac- 
tion, and returns them his thanks, and appoints Aaron 
Mann, who commanded the Guards on Rhode Island, to 
the rank of Captain ; Levi Hopkins, First Lieutenant ; 
George Potter, Second Lieutenant, and John Wescott, 
Ensign. The General assures them they shall have their 
Commissions as soon as possible. 

4 'John Sullivan." 

Colonel Ephraim Bowen of Rhode Island was ap- 
pointed Quartermaster-General in the United States 
army, and in June, 1778, was assigned to the Rhode 
Island department. October 20, 1778, he writes to Gen. 
Nathaniel Greene that he has borrowed of Sullivan 44 one 
hundred and forty thousand dollars, which he wishes me 
to return as soon as convenient. If it is possible wish 
it might be sent forward, and at the same time should be 
glad to receive some for the department. 1 ' Writing to 
Greene from Providence, November 14, 1778, Bowen 
says: 44 Have paid General Sullivan out of the money 
you last sent me, sixty-five thousand dollars, which leaves 
a balance of seventy-five thousand more. I have directed 
all accounts whatever to be made up to the last of this 
month, that you may have the true and exact amounts of 
the disbursements of the department." 

Sullivan remained in command in the state until March, 
1779, when he was succeeded by Gates. Previous to his 

2 4 

departure, however, he was presented with the following 
address by the town of Providence : 

11 To Major- General John Sullivan : 

11 Sir, — As you have sustained the high office of com- 
mander-in-chief at this post for about a year past, and 
during that whole time have carefully attended to, and 
cordially promoted the peace, interest, and safety of the 
state in general, and of this town in particular, all that 
prudence could suggest, that diligence could effect or 
valor attempt, has been done for us. But as the service 
of America is now to deprive us of your further continu- 
ance here, and calls you to fill the same high office, in 
more important commands, we can do no less than hon- 
estly to return you our sincere thanks and most grateful 
acknowledgments, wishing you the blessings of Heaven, 
success in all your efforts to serve your country, that 
you may happily tread the courts of virtue, and finally 
reach the temple of fame. 

"We are, Sir, with every sentiment of gratitude and 
the highest respect, Your Honor's most obedient humble 

" Signed by the unanimous order and in behalf of a 
town meeting of the freemen of the town of Provi- 
dence, assembled on the i8th day of March, 1779. 

" Theodore Foster, Town Clerk" 


" To the respectable freemen and inhabitants of the 
town of Providence : Permit me, Gentlemen, to return 
you my most sincere and cordial acknowledgments, for 


your very polite and affectionate address. The unani- 
mous voice of so respectable a number of my fellow citi- 
zens, approving my conduct as Commander-in-chief of 
this department, affords me unspeakable satisfaction ; 
and it is with great truth and sincerity, I assure you, 
that the parting with so spirited and virtuous a people, 
whose efforts to support me in my commands and to op- 
pose the common enemy have so well witnessed their zeal 
for the interests of America, gives me the most sensible 
pain ; and, in a great degree, damps the pleasure arising 
from a prospect of rendering my country essential ser- 
vice, in the department to which I am called. 

•« I have the honor to be, with the most lively senti- 
ments of esteem and gratitude, Gentlemen, your obedient 


" John Sullivan." 

Addresses were also presented General Sullivan by the 
officers of the army in Rhode Island, the surgeons of 
General Glover's brigade, and by other bodies. Previ- 
ous to his departure from Providence, Sullivan was 
entertained at a grand banquet and other courtesies were 
extended him. On leaving, he was accompanied out of 
town by Generals Glover and Varnum, officers from each 
corps of the army, and many leading citizens. An artil- 
lery salute of thirteen guns rounded out the farewell. 

After the war, Sullivan resumed the practice of law in 
New Hampshire ; was a member of Congress, became attor- 
ney-general, president of the state senate, was three times 
elected chief magistrate (governor) of the state, and at 
his death, in 1795, was federal judge for New Hampshire. 


In October, 1779, Newport was evacuated by the British. 
For a long time their position in the town and on the 
island had been a trying one. Food at times was scarce, 
scurvy broke out, and there was much suffering. Fuel 
ran low, necessitating the destruction of wharves and 
houses to obtain firewood. Several hundred houses and 
other buildings were thus demolished. The evacuation 
took place October 25. 

Some six or seven thousand troops were embarked 
in fifty-two transports and were accompanied by a 
large number of refugees and other royalists. The light- 
house at Beaver Tail was burned and much other damage 
done. The enemy took away the records of Newport, 
and the vessel containing them was sunk near New York. 
They remained under water three years when they were 
finally dredged up, brought back to Newport and copies 
made where it was possible. But over thirty volumes 
were a total loss. On the morning of October 26, Gen. 
John Stark crossed over from Tiverton at the head of a 
body of troops and took possession of Newport. The 
British were never again in control. 


Major in the New Hampshire militia. 
Conducts, with John Langdon, a successful expedition 
against Fort William and Mary. 

Member of the Continental Congress. 
Brigadier-general in the Continental army. 
Participates in the siege of Boston. 


Raises 2,000 New Hampshire men for the patriot 

Is ordered to Rhode Island with a brigade to repel a 
threatened British attack. 

Commands the Northern army. 

Holds chief command on Long Island. 

Is commissioned major-general. 

Assists Gens. Lincoln and Stirling and 8,000 men in 
holding at bay a British force of 23,000 men. 

Leads the American right wing to join Washington on 
the Delaware. 

Commands the right on the passage of the river and 
the capture of the Hessians at Trenton. 

Participates in the Battle of Princeton. 

Makes a night descent on Staten Island. 

Commands the American right at the Brandywine and 
at Germantown, where he defeats the British left. 

Is appointed to command the Rhode Island depart- 

Instrumental in raising 10,000 men, in a few weeks, for 
the siege of Newport, R. I. 

Greets D'Estaing, the French admiral, on the latter's 
arrival (1778) with a French fleet off Newport. 

Engages and repulses the British at the battle of Rhode 
Island (August 29, 1778). 

Enters the Iroquois country, in New York (1779), to 
punish the savages and their British allies, which he does 
very effectually. 

Defeats a force under Joseph Brandt and Sir John 


"Again a member of the Continental Congress. 

Assists in reorganizing the army, and establishing the 
national finances and public credits. 

Chairman of the committee that aided in suppressing 
the mutiny (1781) of Pennsylvania troops. 

President (governor) of New Hampshire (i786- 1 89). 

Member of the state constitutional convention (1784). 

Commissioner to settle the " New Hampshire Grants" 
difficulty with Vermont. 

United States judge for New Hampshire. 

General Sullivan's son, the Hon. George Sullivan, was, 
like his father, a lawyer of note, became attorney-general 
of New Hampshire, a state senator, and a member of 


Member of the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts 


Executes a difficult mission to Ticonderoga. 

Is appointed a judge of the Massachusetts Superior 
Court (1776). 

Member of the State Constitutional Convention. 

Delegate from Massachusetts to the Continental Con- 

Serves with his brother, Eben, on the staff of their 
brother, Gen. John Sullivan, at the battle of Rhode 

Repeatedly a member of the Massachusetts state legis- 

2 9 

Commissioner to settle land controversy between Mas- 
sachusetts and New York (1784). 

Member of the council of the governor of Massachu- 

Judge of probate, Suffolk county, Mass. 

Attorney-General of Massachusetts. 

Governor of Massachusetts (1 807-1 808). 

Commissioner (appointed by Washington) to settle 
boundary between the United States " and the British 
North American provinces. 

Projector of the Middlesex Canal, Massachusetts, his 
son, John Langdon Sullivan, being agent and engineer 
for the construction of the same. 

A founder, and for many years president, of the 
Massachusetts Historical Society. 


The following is a list of works by the late Mr. Thomas 
C. Amory of Boston, on the Sullivan family: 

The Life of James Sullivan, with selections from his 
Writings (2 vols., Boston, Mass., 1859). 

The Military Services and Public Life of Major-General 
John Sullivan of the American Revolutionary Army. 
(Albany, N. Y., and Boston, Mass., 1868.) 

General John Sullivan : A Vindication of his Character 
as a Soldier and a Patriot. From the Historical Maga- 
zine for December, 1866. (Morrisania, N. Y., 1867. ) 

The Military Services of Major-General John Sullivan 


in the American Revolution Vindicated from recent His- 
torical Criticism. (Cambridge, Mass., 1868.) 

Master Sullivan of Berwick, his Ancestors and De- 

General Sullivan not a Pensioner of Luzerne. (Cam- 
bridge, Mass., 1875.) 

Memoir of Hon. William Sullivan. (Cambridge, 
Mass., 1879.) 

Daniel Sullivan's Visits, May and June, 1781, to Gen- 
eral John Sullivan. (Cambridge, Mass., 1884.) 

Memoir of Hon. Richard Sullivan. (Cambridge, 
Mass., 1885.) 

Materials for a History of the Family of John Sullivan 
of Berwick, New England, and of the O'Sullivans of 
Ardea, Ireland. (Cambridge, Mass., 1893.) 

Centennial Memoir of Major-General John Sullivan, 
1 740-1 795 (presented at Independence Hall, Philadel- 
phia, July 2, 1876; printed at Philadelphia, 1878-9). 

• • • • • 
• •••••• 

3 1 

The following letter, written in 1900, to the author of 
this leaflet, has a bearing upon the subject just treated : 

My Dear Mr. Murray: 

Mr. R. H. Tilley has advised me to write you, as a 
valuable man to interest in a project which should be of 
interest to every loyal Rhode Islander. 

The old historic fort on Butts Hill in Portsmouth is 
being surveyed with the idea of selling in small lots, and 
thus totally obliterating the fort where General Sulli- 
van and his troops fought so well and so bravely. 
Does it not seem as if this spot should be preserved if 
possible? I believe a bill was introduced into the legis- 
lature some time ago, making this fort a state park, but 
nothing has since been heard of it, so far as I can find 

Miss Swinburne, regent of William Ellery Chapter, 
D. A. R.. and I are very desirous of rousing among the 
patriotic societies a sufficient interest to save this well- 
preserved relic of Revolutionary days. It seems a pecu- 
liarly fitting season to begin the agitation, and I hope 



that some of the speakers" on Wednesday, both at the 
celebration by your own Historical Society and also at 
the meeting of the Sons of the Revolution on the same 
day, may feel inclined to call attention to this subject. 

I talked with Mr. Tilley 1 yesterday and found him as 
kindly disposed to help as I could desire, and he has 
promised to add his word in support of my request 
whenever he may chance to see you. I can answer for 
my own Gaspee Chapter, D. A. R., if our assistance is 
needed, but with such influence as you could wield, 
cooperating with the S. A. R. and S. R. of the state, I 
feel very hopeful of success in our patriotic project. 

I do not feel as if I had at all adequately presented my 
case, but it is very hard to condense all that might be 
said on such a subject into the limits of a reasonable 
note. I hope you will recognize my endeavor to save 
your valuable time, and read into my words an enthusi- 
astic interest which I have not expressed. 
Very sincerely yours, 

Margaret B. F. Lippitt, 
Regent, Gaspee Chapter, D. A. R. 

Newport, R. I., August twenty-sixth. 

i State Record Commissioner of Rhode Island. 

This leaflet is issued at Providence, R. I., August i, 1902, by the 
American- Irish Historical Society. 


Return to desk from which borrowed. 
This book is DUE on the last date stamped below. 

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